Mining is on the precipice of the greatest skills shortfall in its history.
Long-term trends in demographics mean that a large number of skilled mining professionals are retiring from the workforce. Mining professionals who left the industry during the bust are not tempted to bring their experience to the next upward cycle.
Fewer school leavers are now enrolling onto courses that will prepare them for a role in mining. Many of those who do choose a mining qualification, discover on graduation that they have a wide range of options and decide to work in other high-tech sectors. Graduates who apply for mining roles are often lack some of the essential skills employers want.
These challenges have been identified in an initial research report, Futureproofing education for mining written by Swann’s Nona Sichinava and Dr Emily Goetsch and first published in the Global Leadership Report released by the Mining Journal.
Nona and Emily’s research is based on interviews and questionnaires with academics from mining departments at universities in the UK, the US, Canada and Australia, their graduates and senior industry practitioners.
They conclude that while universities face challenges in providing graduates with all the right skills in sufficient numbers to meet the needs of the industry, the responsibility is shared with other stakeholders.
Collaboration between the sector, educators and budget holders is the only way to solve this conundrum.
For example, mining firms have much work to do to make the sector more attractive. The negative perceptions of the industry inevitably reduce the number of people who choose to study mining courses, and also those mining graduates who seek employment in mining.
Sponsorships, work experience opportunities and recruitment drives that follow a dependable pattern rather than reflecting the inevitable cyclical nature of the sector, also need to be provided by miners.
Leaders in education need to reassess their curricula against the present and anticipated needs of the industry. Establishing a two-way conversation will be central to this. The new skills go beyond the traditional mining disciplines to include critical thinking, new technologies, and the social dimensions of the sector.
Policymakers and budget holders and must provide the resources that enable educators to reshape their curricula. Courses are already so packed as to allow little room for manoeuvre, so this will require funding, prioritisiation and time.
The demographic, education and social trends Nona and Emily have identified form a perfect storm that should be of concern to any leader in mining.
You can download their initial findings here.